By Engy Magdy and John Newton, Aid to the Church in Need
Converts to Christianity in Morocco have been repeatedly arrested by police as part of a campaign clamping down on the Faith.
Jawad Elhamidy, president of the Moroccan Association of Rights and Religious Liberties, told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) that Christian converts have been arrested up to three times a week and subjected to harassment while at police stations.
Most are released after interrogation – but are often put under pressure to return to Islam, and face abuse when they refuse.
Elhamidy said: “The penal code holds that all Moroccans are Muslims, so those who convert to Christianity face legal problems, besides threats to their security.”
He added that it is even more dangerous for Christian converts when allegations of blasphemy are made –Christians have been held for several days and there have been incidents of violence.
The human rights activist said that police have also threatened spouses and children with arrest.
Elhamidy told the story of Mohamed Al Moghany, a Muslim convert to Christianity from Al Hajeb city, whose employer had waved a gun at him and threatened to kill him.
When Al Moghany filed a complaint with police, he was told not to speak about his conversion, and threats were made against his family.
Six months later, following an argument with his employer, he was arrested and sentenced to six months in prison. His wife was interrogated as well.
Other than Islam, the only legally recognized religion is Judaism – although foreign Christians living and working in the country are permitted freedom of worship.
Elhamidy told ACN that there are two Christian communities in Morocco – foreigners who live in the country and Moroccans who have converted to Christianity from Islam.
It is estimated that 30,000 foreign residents are Catholic and 10,000 are Protestant.
The number of indigenous Moroccan Christians is an estimated 8,000, though some sources put that number as high as 25,000 out of a total population of 34.6 million.
Unlike foreign Christians, converts do not enjoy freedom of worship under the law.
Elhamidy said: “If a Moroccan enters a church, one of two things can happen – either a policeman sitting in front of the church arrests him or her, or the cleric in charge of the church asks the person to leave unless the purpose is tourism.”
He added: “Moroccan Christians worship in secret house churches to avoid state sanctions or harassment from society.”
Foreign clergy are said to discourage Moroccan Christians from attending their churches because of fear of being criminally charged with proselytism.
Under Moroccan law, proselytizing or converting to another religion is a criminal offense punishable by between six months and three years in prison.
According to Elhamidy, Church leaders receive a weekly warning from the authorities not to welcome Moroccans, or they will be charged with proselytizing.
The government also restricts the distribution of non-Islamic religious materials, as well as Islamic materials it deems, are inconsistent with the Maliki-Ashari school of Sunni Islam.
According to the Moroccan Association of Human Rights’ 2018-19 report, Shia Islam is denigrated in the media and in Friday sermons.